Be SepticSmart - Information on Wastewater and Septic Systems

When you think of infrastructure you typically think of roads right?  But there is a ‘hidden’ infrastructure we all tend to forget about since it is underground—our drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.  Until there is a water main break or a septic system failure, people don’t tend to think much about it. 

Approximately 25 percent of the U.S. households and 33 percent of new construction (both domestic and commercial) rely on these kinds of systems.  And today’s advanced onsite systems technologies are not the septic systems of the past 30+ years.  Today’s advanced treatment technologies systems are able to treat wastewater to levels that protect the environment similar to traditional sewer systems. They are also able to treat large volumes of wastewater through the use of cluster systems, which are designed to support many homes.  As the nations’ population continues to grow and as cash-strapped communities in rural and small communities look for viable, effective methods of wastewater treatment, onsite systems will continue to play a critical role in our nation’s wastewater infrastructure.  

For homes that have septic systems to treat wastewater, proper septic system care and maintenance is vital to protecting public health and preserving valuable water resources. When homeowners flush and forget about their septic systems, it can lead to system back-ups and overflows, which can result in costly repairs, pollute local waterways, and create a risk to public health and the environment.

To help raise awareness about the need for proper care and maintenance of septic systems and to encourage homeowners to do their part, EPA is launching its first annual SepticSmart Week, September 23-27, 2013. By taking small steps to care for and maintain home septic systems, homeowners not only help protect public health and the environment, they can save money and protect property values. 

For more tips and more on SepticSmart Week, visit: www.epa.gov/septicsmart.

Who Regulates Domestic Wastewater in Missouri?

A common question the Department of Natural Resources hears is “Who regulates domestic wastewater in Missouri?” The answer is different state and local agencies have responsibility for regulating domestic wastewater including on-site wastewater treatment systems, commonly known as septic systems, and there is a clear line between them.

The Department of Natural Resources is responsible for:

  • Approving the method of domestic wastewater treatment in new residential housing developments (subdivisions) with seven or more lots where each of the
    lots is less than five acres in size and propose to use on-site wastewater treatment systems.
  • Approving any expansion of an existing subdivision by three or more lots where each of those lots is less than five acres in size.
  • Approving the method of domestic wastewater treatment in multiple family housing developments with seven or more units or any expansion of three or
    more units of an existing development or complex that discharges into subsurface soil absorption systems with sewage flows less than or equal to 3,000 gallons per day. Multiple family housing developments include duplexes, quadplexes, motels, hotels, apartments, RV campgrounds and trailer parks. After the department has given written approval for the method of wastewater treatment in a residential housing development, it then becomes the Department of Health and Senior Services or local administrative authority’s jurisdiction to issue the construction permit for the specific wastewater treatment system.
  • Approving multiple family residences, restaurants and commercial facilities when their domestic wastewater flows are less than or equal to 3,000 gallons per day
    and do not discharge into subsurface soil absorption systems (e.g. lagoon or any other discharging system).
  • Approving all domestic wastewater flows greater than 3,000 gallons per day and all industrial waste flows, which is anything not defined as domestic wastewater.

The department hosts an advisory group to provide recommendations for amending current residential wastewater regulations.

Related fact sheets and other resources describing permitting, approvals and exemptions are listed at the end of a departmental fact sheet. Learn more.

The Department of Health and Senior Services is responsible for:

  • Approving domestic wastewater generated by single family residences that discharge into a on-site wastewater treatment (septic) system, single family
    lagoon (one house – one lagoon) or a holding tank.
  • Approving multiple-family residences, restaurants and commercial facilities when their domestic wastewater flows are less than or equal to 3,000 gallons per day and discharge into on-site wastewater treatment systems or a holding tank.

Of the 114 counties in the state, the Department of Health and Senior Services directly administers on-site wastewater regulations in 26 counties. Twenty-seven counties are regarded as contract counties and implement the Department of Health and Senior Services on-site sewage regulation. Those county programs are administered by the local health department. The remaining 61 counties are considered ordinance counties, meaning they have their own on-site sewage regulations, which are as stringent, if not more than, the Department of Health and Senior Services minimum standards. Learn more and find additional DHSS links included below.

Additional Resources from the Department of Health and Senior Services

Tips for Maintaining your Septic System

  • Septic Tank Maintenance Tips - Do's and Don'ts for properly maintaining your septic tanks are a must. Learn more.
  • Put Your Plumbing on a Healthy Diet - You probably know that many of those delicious, high-fat, down-home, home-cooked meals are bad for your arteries. But, did you also know that the fat, lard and grease that make them so tasty are bad for your plumbing, too? The greasy messes that you pour or scrape down the kitchen sink will eventually find their way into the sewer system, either yours, or the city lines you’re hooked up to. Learn more.
  • Disaster Response for Onsite Wastewater Septic Systems - Natural disasters can damage on-site wastewater systems. Some of the systems may be so damaged that repairs will be required before they will work again. Health and safety hazards can exist from exposed sewage and damaged systems. Take personal safety precautions when examining your system for damage and when making repairs. Learn more.

Additional Information on Wastewater Systems

  • Subsurface Drip Distribution System - This departmental fact sheet is designed to help community leaders, homeowner associations; developers and other interested parties understand how a subsurface drip distribution system can be a feasible, long-term solution for dispersing domestic wastewater effluent into the soil. Learn more.

  • Onsite Wastewater Disposal in a Subdivision - This departmental factsheet will help developers and other interested parties understand the Residential Housing Development Rule and how subdivisions receive approval. Learn more.

  • Multiple-Family Developments - This departmental factsheet will outline when a multiple family development is required to receive approval for the method of wastewater treatment and how it receives that approval per 10 CSR 20-6.030 Disposal of Wastewater in Residential Housing Developments. Learn more.